Swimming: Which Swimming Stroke Uses the Most Energy?

Dick Moss, Editor, PE Update.com

Do you think, as I did, that the butterfly is the most energy-expensive swimming stroke? (I can thrash away for only about 10 butterfly strokes before slowly sinking to the bottom).

Nope…in fact, it's the breaststroke that uses the most energy. At an endurance pace, students aged 11-15 use about 7.5 calories per minute performing the butterfly.  But they use 8.5 calories while performing the breaststroke.

An older student (16-18 years old) uses 8.5 calories a minute in the butterfly, but 9.5 in the breaststroke.

A Portuguese study of competitive swimmers found the energy expenditure of the four swimming strokes, over a wide range of velocities, to rank in the following order, with the breaststroke using the most energy, followed by the butterfly, the backstroke and with the freestyle stroke being the most energy-efficient.


1. “Energy requirements for swimming.” News Clipper, Fall , Gatorade Sports Science Institute, 1995.
2. Dick Hannula and Nort Thornton, Swim Coaching Bible, Volume II, Human Kinetics 2012.
3. Barbosa TM, Fernandes R, Keskinen KL, Colaço P, Cardoso C, Silva J, Vilas-Boas JP.Department of Sports Sciences, Polytechnic Institute of Bragança, Bragança, Portugal, Evaluation of the energy expenditure in competitive swimming strokes, 2006 PubMed http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16612740.

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